Showing posts from November, 2013

What Crime and Punishment can teach you that the internet can't

At the age of 28, Fyodor Dostoevsky, sentenced to death for revolutionary activities, stood before a firing squad. The young writer and agitator kissed a cross that was passed around among the prisoners. The Tsar’s soldiers raised their guns. Then a rider rushed into the square and announced a pardon: the condemned men, including Dostoevsky, were to be sent to hard labour in Siberia instead. Very few of us will ever have a terrifying, unreal moment like Dostoevsky’s: convinced he was about to die, then spared at the last minute. When Dostoevsky returned from Siberia and wrote his great novels, his near-death echoed through his work. He felt compelled to imagine killers and their victims in the most graphic, even sickening ways. Being alone with Dostoevsky and his perverse, troubled characters can be an appalling experience. But still we read on, unable to tear ourselves away from a world so miserable and so alien to our hopes. Dostoevsky shows us what subjecting ourselves to a book whos…

Astapovo: Tolstoy's final station

Leo Tolstoy is one of the world's best know and most beloved writers. His novels have brought joy and wisdom to the lives of untold millions. Yet his final years were a time of personal turmoil and family discord. Fleeing what he considered to be an intolerable domestic situation in the fall of 1910, the great writer met death not at his estate of Yasnaya Polyana, but at a distant railway station known as Astapovo, some 250 miles southeast of Moscow in what is now Lipetsk Region. Much has been written about these final days of the writer's life, but little attention has been given to the physical setting in which these momentous events occurred. The nearby village of Astapovo is known to have existed since the mid-17th century. Its name derives from Lake Ostapovo, in turn related to the name "Ostap," pronounced "Astap" in standard Russian. With its small church, Astapovo had little to distinguish it from hundreds of other such villages in south central Russia. …

Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The Concert in the Red Square, Moscow, June 19, 2013

Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Kalman. 
The State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia (Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra).
Constantine Orbelian, conductor. 
Grand Choir "Masters of Choral Singing", conductor: Lev Kontorovich.

All you’ve always wanted to know about Dostoevsky

RBTH: Were Dostoevsky's views on religion unique? Which works best show his religious convictions? Brice Jordan Ludmila Saraskina: Dostoevsky's specific view on religion involves the fact that his faith endured the suffering and hardships of doubt. Most clearly his religious beliefs are expressed in the novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” RBTH: I would like to know about Dostoevsky's attitude to Christianity. Érika Batista L.S.: Dostoevsky was an Orthodox Christian and viewed Christ with great love. RBTH: Was Dostoevsky familiar with Catholicism? A critical attitude appears in his works. Paula Almarat L.S.: When in the forced labor camp, Dostoevsky became acquainted with Polish Catholic convicts. He was offended by their arrogant attitude to the Orthodox prisoners. Later, he wrote many critical things about the Roman Pope Pius IX. RBTH: Did Dostoyevsky read works of Church Fathers and was he influenced by John Chrysostom? Euthimios Nikrer L.S.: Of course he read them, both the Father…

Lopatkina Gala 2005

Lopatkina, Somova, Kondaurova, Vasyukovic, Dumchenko

Alexandra Kollontai: The Loves of Three Generations

COMING to my office one morning I found, among the pile of private and business letters on my desk, a thick envelope that immediately arrested my attention. Thinking it might contain a newspaper article, I opened it. It was a letter, an extraordinarily long letter. The signature....Olga Wasselowskaya. I looked at it thoughtfully.

I knew Comrade Olga Sergejewna Wasselowskaya as an organizer holding a responsible position in the Soviet Republic. I also knew that she was not even remotely interested in the work among women in which I happened to be engaged at the time. What had prompted her to write this endless letter? Glancing at the envelope once more I noticed the words "Strictly Personal" written in large letters across the corner.

"Personal?" Personal letters from women usually mean family tragedies, with a plea for advice and understanding. Was it possible that Olga Sergejewna, this quiet, self-contained woman...? It was unthinkable!

I could not read the latter at…

Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets

First, before we turn our attention to Stalin, to Soviet-era dissidence and to debates about Dmitri Shostakovich’s memoirs, listen. Try the Second String Quartet, from 1944, in which music can veer from somber melancholy to raucous jeers in just a few pages; or trace the coded allusions in the Eighth String Quartet, from 1960, in which the composer uses letters of his name to create a musical motif and invokes phrases from his earlier works that can drift like wisps of smoke; or stay focused through the other­worldly fugal opening of the last quartet, the 15th. “Play it so that flies drop dead in midair, and the audience starts leaving the hall from sheer boredom,” the composer told the players preparing its premiere in 1974.

There is no way to listen to the string quartets of Shostakovich and not wonder about their external meanings. In the Western art music tradition, the string quartet genre has been celebrated for its rigor and coherence. But this Soviet composer, whose reputation …

Zinaida Gippius: Quieter

...Great deeds will be recognized...

Poets, don't write before it's time;
Victory is still in God's hands.
Today, wounds are still smoldering.
No, words are not needed tonight.

In the hours of unjust suffering,
Of the yet to be decided fight,
What is needed is wise silence
And, just perhaps, quiet prayers.

August 1914

Vasily Grossman: Small Life

'Small Life’ is immediately recognizable as the work of the mature Grossman; it is as low-key, as unshowy, as ‘In the Town of Berdichev’ is showy. Here too, however, Grossman takes considerable risks – though this seems to have gone unnoticed when the story was first published in 1936. The hero, Lev Orlov, is timid and depressive; even though his first name means ‘Lion’ and his last name means ‘Eagle’, he is the antithesis of the positive hero of Socialist Realist doctrine. In November 1935 Stalin had declared that ‘Life has become better, life has become merrier’, and these words were repeated again and again – on banners and posters, in newspaper articles, in talks on the radio and in speeches at May Day parades and other public events. They were, in fact, the most popular slogan of the time. Against this background, the use of the words ‘merrily’ and ‘merriment’ and Orlov’s lack of interest in May Day festivities are more than a little provocative. During the 1930s the radio wa…